A new set of proposed open Internet rules from the head of the Federal Communications Commission could alter the way traffic flows online. But one telecom expert at Penn's Wharton School says the rules would initially have little impact on local broadband-giant Comcast.
The new rules, as laid forth by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, would allow content companies to pay Internet service providers to pump their content into consumer households faster. This is a departure from the current principle where all online content is treated equally.
"But Comcast is already subject to what are often called network neutrality or open Internet requirements as part of earlier merger conditions," said Kevin Werbach, an expert in Internet and telecom policy at the Wharton School.
So even though the FCC's open Internet rules were partially overturned in court, Comcast is still subject to them — until 2018, at least.
More generally, Werbach says there are some areas of concern — whether the "regular" Internet pipe becomes a "deliberately slower lane, to the point where you effectively have to pay for the preferential treatment to get reasonable service," he said — but commentary on the proposal so far has been too simplistic.
"Where either the FCC mandates network neutrality, in which case everything is fine and there's no discrimination; or the FCC doesn't, and everyone discriminates and everyone raises prices," Werbach said. "It's really not quite that black and white."
The full commission will hold an open meeting on the proposed rules in mid-May.
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